Domaine Belargus rocketed to fame after receiving a perfect score for one of its very first releases. The Anjou estate was created in 2018 by French financier Ivan Massonnat and is dedicated to celebrating the special terroirs of this special corner of the Loire through the lens of Chenin Blanc.
Ivan Massonnat grew up in the Savoie, where his grandfather farmed a small vineyard, but only came to wine in his 20s. He fell in love with Burgundy and the concept of terroir, developing close relationships with producers there. He bought a country house in the Loire and gradually learned more about the region, discovering its rich history of fine wine production and its unrealized potential.
After a decade spent learning about the wine business, in 2018 he bought legendary Loire producer Jo Pithon’s operation – then under the name Pithon-Paillé, including his prized Coteau des Treilles vineyard. Within six months he bought a parcel in Savennières and 10 hectares (equivalent to a quarter of the appellation) of Quarts de Chaume, the region’s only Grand Cru vineyards. He hired a young team including winemaker Adrien Moreau, formerly of Château Cheval Blanc, Roederer and Ch. Haut-Brion. Jo Pithon and the late Guy Bossard (a pioneer of biodynamic farming in Muscadet) worked as consultants.
There are around 24 hectares in total, averaging between 30 and 40 years old. The vines are all farmed biodynamically, with organic certification completed and biodynamic certification underway. The yields are low, around 25hl/ha, which the team are gradually trying to increase (aiming for 35hl/ha) with work in the vineyard. One particular focus is harvesting the grapes at perfect maturity – doing multiple passes through the vineyard (between two and six, depending on the vintage) to make sure no green or over-ripe berries make it into the winery.
The general approach in the winery is to intervene as little as possible – with stainless steel and mainly larger, old oak, indigenous yeast, letting malolactic fermentation happen (or not), keeping wines on the lees and using only essential levels of sulfur. A new winery is being planned to give them further control, with, for example, a Coquard press (allowing especially gentle pressing, commonly used in Champagne).
The aim is to hold back all the wines three to four years, and release them when ready, as such the 2020s were released before the 2019s, for example. The wines were first released in 2021, with the 2018 Quarts de Chaume Ultra, the property’s most unctuous cuvée, with one barrel only made in exceptional vintages, earning 100 points from the Wine Advocate.
The property produces lots of different wines, mainly focused on individual parcels of vines – all exclusively with Chenin Blanc. Anjou Noir is the estate’s entry-level bottling, blending fruit from across its vineyards. In Savennières it makes two cuvées – Gaudrets (from a 1.85-hectare parcel) and the monopole Ruchères (a 0.4-hectare clos at the foot of Roche aux Moines). In Quarts de Chaume, it produces a range of both dry and sweet wines. Currently the dry wines can’t carry “Quarts de Chaume Grand Cru” on the label, although this is something Massonnat is challenging. Ronceray is a blend of plots across Quarts de Chaume, then there are three single sites: Quarts, Rouères and Veau, with both Quarts and Rouères made in dry and sweet styles. In addition to these, Belargus produces Layon (a blend of plots close to the river in the Coteaux du Layon), Excharderie (a blend of Premier Cru Chaume parcels) and Ultra, its most decadent sweet wine, made only in certain vintages. There are two further dry wines – Bonnes Blanches and Treilles, the latter coming from Jo Pithon’s original Coteau des Treilles vineyard.
In 2022, Ivan Massonnat purchased an estate in Chinon, Domaine de Beauséjour.